At Covenant Reformed, we talk a lot about the voices we hear and how to exercise Christian discernment. When we are confronted with advertisements—billboards, commercials, or scripts—we are confronted with a message. These outlets are selling a message, precisely their message. These voices are trying to do three things, gain our attention, tell us what is significant today, and force their interpretation on the matter. When you read the news today, the outlet has curated what to headline. These selections are deemed as the most important, and they are trying to tell you how to think about the matter.
This curation of information does not mean everything in the news is a lie or manipulation for nefarious purposes. The forecast for rain or sunshine is just trying to provide a guess at the future. There is little danger in such guesswork—although hurricane and flooding forecasts could be dire. The point is that Christians are not to bumble around in life naked-minded to the exposure of such voices. The voices of power, dominance, and authority structures are also constantly lobbed at you, and you must be wearing the whole armor of God at all times (Eph 6:11). Let me offer a biblical example of the battling between voices of the world versus the voice of truth.
In Isaiah 36, we find that the king of Assyria has conquered the land, defeating all the fortified cities of Judah. The messengers of Sennacherib deliver his message to the people. First, their confidence and trust are challenged when the messengers rhetorically ask, “What are you relying on … Whom are you relying on?” (Isa 36:4–5). Second, the messengers sow doubt and discord by telling them their allies will not rescue them (Isa 36:6–7). The message is clear; even God cannot rescue them, so the people have no choice but to accept the paths established by these voices. Third, the messengers make demands and offer bribes to accept the voice of the earthly Sennacherib (Isa 36:8).
While our experiences today are rarely as overt, the challenges of worldly voices are the same. The voices of the world tell us what we must be concerned about, require us to adopt their interpretation, and demand we act in their prescribed manner. We are told to buy into consumerism to fix all our problems physically, emotionally, and societally. We are told to educate our children with the message they create. We are told to wear what they want us to wear and fear what they tell us to fear.
Thanks be to God that he provides us with an example of living better and walking in righteous paths. When the world forces a message onto us, we must exercise discernment and reflection through the wisdom of Scripture. As Jesus tells us, “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). The exercise of godliness rather than caving is what we see in Isaiah 37.
When Israel’s king Hezekiah hears the voices of worldly power trying to force him to crumble, he turns to a different and better voice. Isa 37:1, he turns to meet with God in the temple and sends for advice from the prophet Isaiah. This course of action is precisely what we must do every time. Before crumbling and before choking down the message of worldly voices, we turn to God, and we turn to the covenant community for help in our times of need (Heb 4:16).
Unsurprisingly, God had an entirely different message than Sennacherib with a powerful otherworldly voice. While Sennacherib, his army, and even Israel looked around and felt the scenario was clear, God had entirely different plans. The appearance of circumstances ultimately did not define reality. The great army that looked unbeatable in its conquering and devastation turned out to be no match for the plans of God. When the voices of worldly power were seemingly deafening in their demands, the angel of the Lord wiped out the army in a single night (Isa 37:36).
No person could foresee the turn of events. No person could have predicted how it would all go down. The point is that God’s people must heed God’s voice in all things and hold it above things. The voice of God is more powerful and truthful than the world’s voice, the world’s interpretation, and even your own interpretation of circumstances. Let us learn from the Bible and the covenant community’s history to seek first and finally the voice of God. Let us exercise discernment and wisdom in every encounter with competing voices.
1) What voices do you give ear to?
2) What is most impactful on your decision-making process? Marketing? Popular opinion? News?
3) What role do biblical discernment and prayer play in your day-to-day life?